BANGOR, Maine — A federal jury found a New Jersey man guilty of conspiracy and money laundering in connection with a narwhal whale tusk smuggling operation.
Andrew J. Zarauskas, 60, of Union , N.J., was found guilty Friday on one count each of conspiracy to smuggle goods into the United States, conspiracy to launder money, smuggling goods into the U.S. and money laundering.
The jury of nine men and three women was out for three hours and 20 minutes before telling U.S. District Judge John Woodcock that it had reached a verdict in the trial that began Tuesday in federal court.
After the verdict was announced, Zarauskas’ attorney, Stephen Smith of Bangor, told the court that his client would leave the question of how much money he must forfeit to the government up to the judge rather than send it to the jury Friday.
Evidence presented during the trial showed that Zarauskas paid $35 an inch for the tusks and sold them for $70. He paid Logan a total more than $85,000 between November 2002 and July 2008 for what was estimated to be 33 tusks.
Zarauskas remains free on bail. A sentencing date has not been set.
Smith said the verdict would be appealed to the 1st U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston.
“We think the government was overly aggressive in prosecuting this case and created some very important appeal issues, but, for the moment, we’re setting our sights on sentencing. Mr. Zarauskas is a self-employed, small-time contractor. The country is not well served by putting him behind bars,” Smith said.
Federal prosecutor Todd S. Mikolop, who works in the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, declined to comment on the case.
“Zarauskas and his co-conspirators flouted U.S. law and international agreements that protect marine mammals such as the narwhal for their own personal financial benefit,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert Dreher, who is Mikolop’s supervisor, said in a news release. “The Justice Department will continue to investigate and prosecute those engaged in this insidious trade in order to protect species for future generations to enjoy.”
Zarauskas was indicted in November 2012 by a federal grand jury with Jay Gus Conrad, 67, of Lakeland Tenn.; Gregory Robert Logan, 56, and his wife, Nina Logan, 53, both of Woodmans Point, New Brunswick, and Grande Prairie, Alberta.
Logan obtained the tusks in Canada and sold them on the Internet to Zarauskas, Conrad and others, according to trial testimony. Logan then concealed them under his truck and in a hidden compartment in a trailer he pulled behind the truck and crossed the border without the required permits and paperwork.
The Canadian mailed the tusks to Zarauskas and other customers from FedEx in Bangor. Logan had buyers send payments to a post office box in Ellsworth and deposited the money in branches of the Machias Savings Bank.
The male narwhal’s ivory tusk spirals counter-clockwise from its head and can be as long as eight feet, according to NationalGeographic.com. That spiral marking was notable on the eight-foot long tusk shown to the jury Tuesday during the prosecution’s opening statement. Scientists have speculated it is prominent in mating rituals, perhaps used to impress females or battle rival suitors.
The narwhal is a medium-size whale native to Arctic waters and protected in the U.S. by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In Canada, it is protected in the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Only the Inuit may legally harvest the whale in Canada. The Inuit also may legally sell the tusks in Canada.
The cranium and tusks presented as evidence at Zarauskas’ trial will be retained as evidence for the prosecution of the Logans. After their cases have been resolve,d the items would not be forfeited to the government but could be used for educational or scientific purposes. Where they would go mostly likely would be up to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Conrad pleaded guilty last month to one count each of conspiracy to smuggle goods into the U.S., conspiracy to launder money and smuggling goods into the U.S. He is free on bail awaiting sentencing but is listed as a witness for the defense at Zarauskas’ trial.
A former Canadian Mountie, Gregory Logan on Feb. 1 completed four months of home confinement and will be on probation in Canada for another four months. He was ordered to pay a $385,000 fine — the highest ever issued in Canada for violating that country’s wildlife laws, according to Canadian news reports. Logan also was prohibited from possessing or purchasing marine mammal products for a period of 10 years.
The ex-Mountie is awaiting extradition to the U.S., according to court documents filed in federal court in Bangor.
Nina Logan has not been arrested on the U.S. charges. Charges against her in Canada were dismissed last year after Gregory Logan pleaded guilty in New Brunswick to crimes connected to the smuggling operation.
Zarauskas and the Logans, if convicted, each face up to 20 years in federal prison in the U.S. Each also could be fined $500,000 or twice the value of the money involved in the offense, whichever is greater.